2004 Food Quality Award

Here’s the Beef. Beef Products Inc., the winner of the 2004 Food Quality Award, proclaims that food safety and quality is “good business.” The small company has a big heart when it comes to applying its knowledge to make food safer.

The sides of beef were black from excessive ammonia exposure and plant workers were trimming and salvaging what they could from a leak that occurred two days earlier at a California slaughterhouse.

“I asked one of them what they were going to do with these things and I said surely they are not worth anything,” says Eldon Roth, founder and chairman of Beef Products Inc., a Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based processor of boneless, lean beef trimmings. “And one guy said, ‘Oh, we’ll cut off a bunch of the meat and then send it up to Stockton and they’ll treat it with acid to neutralize it.’”

Even though it was done under USDA supervision, the 62-year-old Roth, a welder in his mid 20s at the time, was skeptical when the worker explained that he would buy this marinated meat every time there was an ammonia leak. “In those days, there were a lot of ammonia leaks, but I didn’t say anything to him,” he says. “I just walked away thinking he wanted me to buy some of this meat.”

But what Roth observed that day and in Stockton later on would remain tucked away in his mind for years; never realizing that he would have a total recall that through a team effort would change the BPI and, in many cases, food safety and quality as the world knew it, forever.

It also created an ethic within BPI’s South Sioux City, Neb., Amarillo, Texas, Holcomb, Kan., and Waterloo, Iowa, plants that impressed a panel of judges, who overwhelmingly bestowed the 2004 Food Quality Award to the lean beef trimmings company.

BPI’s 95 percent lean product is a key component of ground beef and hamburger blends produced by major packers and processors. It is also used by the majority of quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains; hotel, restaurant, institution and food service suppliers. The company also prides itself on a pathogen reduction process and HACCP and SSOP programs that are a part of the culture in each of its four facilities.

Food Quality magazine, which toured BPI’s facilities last year, encouraged Roth and other officials of the 24-year-old company to throw their proverbial hat in the ring as one of many contenders for the 2004 Food Quality Award, which included Sysco Corp., Danisco USA Inc. and Wixon Inc. »

Two judges, Paul Hall, senior director of microbiology and food safety at Kraft Foods (Northfield, Ill.) and Dr. Purnendu Vasavada, a professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin in River Falls, noted that BPI had an excellent application and detailed supporting documentation; evidence of a well designed safety system and a validated HACCP program; computerized process controls and links to management, employee training programs; and community involvement.

“I was impressed with their innovation in reducing pathogens in ground beef. They sponsored research and also published and shared the findings with their competition,” Hall says. “They showed that food safety isn’t a competitive issue. It was very clear that the commitment to food safety was there. I was very impressed with that. The other thing was that it was very clear about the investment of the manufacturing infrastructure. I was very impressed with that, too.”

A Call to Action

Roth perhaps lived the epitome of the American Dream. He grew up in rural South Dakota, where he and his family were share croppers, left for California as a teen and worked there until his mid 40s. It was during this time that he learned about food processing and refrigeration from the ground up by doing sanitation work in ice cream plants, all the while maintaining a keen interest in learning from each new task he was charged with.

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